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Contents: Virtual Tour of New Bedford Massachusetts Whaling Museum
NEW BEDFORD WHALING MUSEUM
New Bedford, Massachusetts
In January 1841, a 21-year-old seaman named Herman Melville set sail aboard a whaling ship on one of the most important sea voyages in American literature. The book MOBY DICK was inspired by that voyage, and it was NEW BEDFORD that Melville sailed from on that voyage. This town was the Whaling Capital of the World. The whaling industry continued growing another 15 years. The legacy of the whaling history has been retained along with the historicity of the town itself.
New Bedford was known as the "City that Lit the World". Whale oil lit city streets and lubricated the machines of the Industrial Revolution. When petroleum replaced whale oil, the industry turned its attention to baleen for ladies' corsets. The story continues below with meeting the Eskimo people in Barrow Alaska.
|SPERM WHALE SKELETON|
Sperm whale skeleton, 48 feet long; jaw alone is 12 feet long. It would have yielded 60 barrels of oil.
|Other whales and whale parts & oddities|
|Northern Right Whale mural, called the "right" whale for whalers as it was a good size and floated when dead. Highly endangered now.||Ear
bone of Fin whale
Ear bone of sperm whale
|Sperm whale teeth (back row L - below gum line, middle - deformed diseased tooth, R - bifurcated (divided) tooth; front: Large Sperm whale tooth||
Vial of krill (Euphosia superba) on L, Parasitic Isopod (whale barnacle) coronula diadema, common to baleen whales (middle)
Whale in Inupiat (Native Alaskan Eskimo) Culture
The Eskimo people (Inupiat tribe) in Barrow Alaska have long hunted whales to use all of it as part of their culture. (See the famous whale bone arch in Barrow above).
The New Bedford whalers had reason to be grateful to these people, as they took the whalers in, saved their lives and gave them shelter & food until spring, after their ship ran aground on Point Barrow.
The Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska has a world class exhibit showing their history and culture. You can view a Virtual Tour of the Heritage Center on
|Totem pole, late 19th century, whale rib bone, abalone etc.||Artifact
root pick tool, made of spruce wood and bone
|Shaman's amulet, mid 19th century, Pacific NE Native American style of carving of a whale from a sperm whale tooth||
Shaman's ceremonial ladle made of whale baleen & ivory, mid 19th century
|Bird bola (thrown to catch birds), made of walrus ivory, bone, feathers and hemp; early 20th century||More descriptions of these artifacts|
The commercial whalers from New Bedford, Massachusetts hunted further from home each year due to whale depletion, until Captain Thomas Roys stumbled upon the bowhead whaling grounds in Bering Strait (Alaska). The Inupiat people were generous to strangers in need. But as the whalers depleted the whales and walrus populations, the Inupiat began to go hungry, and therefore went to work for the whalers on the commercial ships.
By the 1880's, the whalers began to set up semi-permanent stations in and near Barrow. The whalers adapted the Inupiat techniques such as using Inupiat crews to set out from the ice edge in skin boats (called Umiat), but using their own innovations like bomb guns to more quickly harvest a whale.
Some commercial whalers decided to stay in the Arctic and build lives there. Charles Brower and Fred Hopson were two whalers who married Inupiaq women and founded new dynasties in Barrow. Their descendents continue the whaling tradition of their forefathers (both Yankee and Inupiat) to this day. We met numerous honorable Native people with the last name of Brower in our 3 visits to Barrow.
WHALING SHIP MODEL
(the largest ship model in the world, 89 feet long from flying jib boom to the end of the spanker boom), built in 1916 by New Bedford shipwrights. It symbolizes the zenith of the American whaling industry.
|Children climb all through the ship, what a great teaching tool||You can appreciate the size of it next to Glenn|
WHALE JAWS, TEETH & PRODUCTS made from whales, Walrus ivory, and a NARWHAL TUSK
SCRIMSHAW is a whaler's art of engraving and decorating sperm-whale teeth, and making things from the byproducts of whaling - baleen, whale bone, walrus tusks and whale bone ribs. Scrimshandering or scrimshonting was a shipboard pastime during the idle hours on the whaling grounds in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They used lampblack or colored inks and dyes to highlight the etching/engravings. They also made hand tools, yarn winders, sewing & knitting accessories, kitchen implements such as rolling pins & pie crimpers, canes & walking sticks, jewelry boxes, chests of drawers, birdcages or inlaid furniture.
|Huge Whale jaw bones in the Lagoda room||Sperm whale teeth carved with people & flowers. One is Actor John Kemble in a 1799 production, circa 1830's||Sperm whale tooth - Whale ship William Tell of New York by scrimshaw artist Edward Burdett of Nantucket, circa 1830; another of a Hawaiian girl|
|Another of the same Hawaiian themed sperm whale tooth, and 2 others with Victorian women||3 teeth, 1 carved in high relief flowers, one scrimshaw flowers and the third a young girl with a teddy bear. Lovely.||2 sperm whale teeth, 1 scrimmed with George Washington, the 2nd is a young girl with a hoop||2 sperm whale teeth, 1 looks like Ulysses Grant made into a decorative egg cup on a base, the 2nd is an American Spread-eagle, circa 1830's|
|Engraved etching of sailing ships and whales made from whale jawbone, 19th century.||Two sperm whale teeth of whaling ships (though I cannot read the details on the sign)||Five sperm whale teeth showing ships, American flag, and a tropical scene||Steamboats (though they look like sailing ships), circa 1840's|
|"Susan's Tooth" by Frederick Myrick, ship Susan of Nantucket, 1829||Pair of sperm whale teeth, theme of Neptune & Columbia, circa 1850||Assortment of hand made tools made from whale bone - awl, knife, square, etc.||An entire bird cage made of whale bone|
Sperm whale tooth scrimmed of "Ship L C
Pair of sperm whale teeth in high relief carving of a man and woman
|Intricate Clocks made with whale bone finials & inlays||Stemware goblet or bud vase carved from sperm whale tooth; shell flowers. Circa 1850-1875||A wall sconce made from a sperm whale tooth, with shell flowers|
|Waste paper basket made from sperm whale skeletal bone (ribs), 19th century||An assortment of "busks" and "flowering" corset-busks elaborately carved, made from whale bone jaws. It was felt that carving items that would be close to their wife's body she would wear while he was there or gone was a comforting thought for a whale man.||Circus trapeze artist in whale ivory hanging from trapeze|
|Two sperm whale teeth, "Burns and Highland Mary", from a poem by Robert Burns; circa 1840-s to 1850's. Left is a whaling scene (2nd photo shows back side with more whales), right is a detailed color scrimshaw of man, woman and tree background||A beautiful chest, inlaid with whale bone and ivory||An intricate sewing chest of wood with ivory & whale bone inlays and spindles|
|A "Swift" is an intricate yarn-winder. The cage of the swift opens like an umbrella to hold any size skein of yarn as it is turned onto it, then allowing it to be pulled off and wound into balls. If the work is paused, the ball can be stored in the center cup or a spike finial.|
|Candle lantern made of sperm whale pan bone; 19th century||Colored scrimshaw of young men & women on walrus tusks, on a wood display with ivory knobs and abalone (paua shell) in center||Work
basket made of sperm whale skeletal bone, 19th century
Whale ivory "picket fence" style work basket with wood marquetry platform, 19th century
|Beautiful Work sewing basket and knitting needles made of sperm whale pan bone (jaw bone); mid 19th century|
|Pair of sperm whale teeth showing sailing ships with red stars above||Deformed (pathologic) sperm whale teeth||Engraved sperm whale pan bone plaque of sailing ships & whales, 19th century||Whale Baleen box etched with lovely designs|
|Thread spool holder made of ivory & bone||Hat box made of solid pieces of whale bone and color scrimshaw of leaves, ships and whales; lid is tortoise shell inlaid with ivory scrimshawed with a lovely young woman.||Wooden Jewelry box inlaid with abalone shell||Mahogany box with whale ivory inlay, name J. A. Clark (by Captain Benjamin Clark)|
Various decorative ivory & bone pie crimpers with
incredible scrollwork, seal & deer, horse & hand designs, some with a
fork to puncture the crust. Wonderful art!
Mermaid pie crimper (jagging wheel) of sperm whale ivory, made by a crew member of the ship Europa, circa 1871-1876; other decorative pie crimpers beside it
Walrus ivory Pie crimper made by Robert Jones, afterwards captain of the bark Concordia when she was lost in the Arctic 1871. This crimper is an example of "Neptune's Steed" (hippocanthus) - the mythical sea monster that pulls "Neptune's Car", a seagoing chariot. It has a two tined fork and a double fluted jagging wheel with a pierced work hub that has six spokes shaped like oarlocks.
desk, dated 1858. Wooden kneehole writing desk, side drawers fitted
with knob-handles carved from sperm whale ivory made by Capn. James
T. Eldredge aboard the New Bedford bark Congaree. He may have
apprenticed to a carpenter in his youth, judging from the quality of the
|Boarding pistol (Blunt & Syms, Mass, 1840-1850) with a sperm whale tooth handle||4 carvings on sperm whale teeth - Detailed village scene and sailing ship, colored scrimshaw of two beautiful women, the 4th is carved into a vise in the shape of a fist|
With their husbands away at sea for extended lengths of time, New Bedford's women were expected to maintain their families and the community ashore. They relied on each other, developed an independence that was exceptional for women of the time. While some were financially independent, others relied on families or ship owners, others earned money by sewing, taking in boarders, or operating small shops.
Scrimshaw pair of sperm whale teeth with theme of whalemen's beloved women back home, anchor between them (anchor a symbol of hope in the nautical world), circa 1830-1860
|Pair of sperm whale teeth scrimmed with a man and woman, a plate with a ship theme between them; circa 1830-1840|
|Baleen ditty box - wood and baleen||Ceramics
with native hunting scenes by Inupiaq Eskimo artist Robert Mayokok
(1903-1983), Wales Alaska, circa 1950's. coffee mug & luncheon
plate with walrus hunting vignettes; Dinner plate with whaling vignettes
Shot flask of walrus tusk ivory, relief carved scenes of traditional Native Alaskan walrus hunt. Note walrus head carved in the wide end.
|Oversize scrimshaw on a pair of whole sperm whale jaw pans, by Leopold Harnois (1907-1993). Scenes of sperm whaling in the Bering Strait & Arctic Ocean, and Right whaling, using prints from Benjamin Russell for his scenes.||Ceramic pitchers by Buffalo Pottery, 1907, featuring "Sperm Whaling - the Capture" from the lithograph by Benjamin Russell.|
|Sperm whale tooth with scrimshaw of spermacetti whale hunt, illustration from book by Robert Hamilton, Natural History of the Ordinary Cetacea or Whales, Vol. 6||Sperm whale tooth, colored pointillist (pinprick) tour-de-force of whaling ship, flowers and scrollwork above, sperm whale below||Narwhal
From Pond's Inlet, Baffin Island
|Exquisitely detailed frames of shell flowers. We saw vintage examples within the museum too though we did not photograph them, it finally struck me how unusual these were by the time we came full circle to the gift shop.|